Travelling around the world can be like medicine for the soul — you get to fulfil your wanderlust, gain a new perspective on life, or just simply unwind after a stressful period at work.

That said, when you travel around the world you may be exposed to all kinds of viruses. In fact, your risk of getting the flu can be as high as 80 per cent just by sitting in the same row on the plane with another person who’s down with the flu.

So, even though it may be the last thing on your travel checklist, it might be a good idea to get vaccinated to boost your body’s defences and avoid falling ill during your holiday.

The Health Promotion Board’s Health Hub portal encourages travellers to get vaccinated at least four to six weeks before departure. This gives your body enough time to overcome any side effects and for the vaccinations to take full effect. And the good news is, most vaccines can provide protection for several years, so it doesn’t mean having many injections every time you travel!

Depending on your travel destination, the importance of certain vaccinations may outweigh others, such as the following:

 

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HIGHLY RECOMMENDED VACCINATIONS

Africa

As many parts of Africa remain underdeveloped, vaccinations against Polio, Typhoid, Rabies, and Hepatitis A and B are recommended. Mosquito viruses like the Yellow Fever virus and Japanese Encephalitis is endemic in Africa so getting vaccinated is also necessary.

Asia

Vaccinations against mosquito-borne viruses, such as Yellow Fever and Japanese Encephalitis, are critical in Asia. If you’re headed to densely populated areas, getting the Influenza and Meningococcal vaccinations are essential.

Australia/Oceania

If you will be spending a lot of time outdoors, it’s vital to get vaccinated against Rabies, Yellow Fever, and Japanese Encephalitis.

Central and South America

As many parts of South and Central America remain underdeveloped, vaccinations against Polio, Typhoid, Rabies, and Hepatitis A and B are recommended. It’s also vital to get vaccinated against the Yellow Fever virus, often spread by mosquitoes.

Europe

Vaccinations against infectious diseases like Hepatitis A and B and Measles should not be overlooked even though healthcare services are well-developed in most parts of Europe.

North America

Due to a resurgence in cases, especially in cities like New York and New Jersey, it pays to get vaccinated against Measles if you haven’t already. Also, don’t overlook vaccines for highly contagious diseases like Hepatitis A and B.

 

As diseases can change quickly over time, online resources like the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travel Health notices and the World Health Organisation’s Disease Outbreak News Portal will keep you updated with the latest developments. Otherwise, ask your doctor if you need to be vaccinated against…

1. Measles

Measles outbreaks have risen within the first three months of 2019 by some 300 per cent worldwide, reports the United Nations. The highly contagious disease, spread through inhaling infected air droplets, can kill a child or leave them blind, deaf or brain damaged. Adults may also develop encephalitis and pneumonia or die as a result of complications.

The good news is measles isn’t of grave concern to Singaporeans as all of us are required by law to get the MMR vaccine during childhood which fends off infection. In any case, do check with your doctor to see if you’d need another dose.
Duration of vaccine protection… a lifetime.
Recommended if you’re travelling to… any country.

2. Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A (Hep-A) can be contracted through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person or through consuming contaminated water, ice, or shellfish harvested from poorly sanitised water sources. Most infections result in jaundice which can be treated and rarely causes liver failure.
Duration of vaccine protection… a lifetime.
Recommended if you’re travelling to… South and Central America and Africa.

3. Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B (Hep-B) is usually transmitted through contact with the blood and bodily fluids from an infected person. An infection can result in the lifelong scarring of the liver, liver failure, or cancer, so getting vaccinated is critical.
Duration of vaccine protection… 20 years.
Recommended if you’re travelling to… South America, Africa, Russia and developing Asian countries.

4. Influenza

Flu shots are typically reformulated annually as these vaccines are designed to combat the most common flu strains during the period. That’s why it is vital for you to get your flu jab every six months to a year to ensure you are protected against the current strain of virus.
Duration of vaccine protection… six months.
Recommended if you’re travelling to… any country, especially during flu season.

A female traveller sneezing into a tissue

Reduce direct contact between your face and hands to prevent the flu virus from moving from a contaminated surface to your respiratory system.

5. Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection typically transmitted through consuming contaminated food or water due to poor sanitation. Infection can also result in high fever, stomach pains, headaches and sometimes a rash. For about three in 10 infected people, typhoid can be fatal.
Duration of vaccine protection… up to 10 years.
Recommended if you’re travelling to… South Asian countries.

6. Japanese Encephalitis

Japanese Encephalitis (JE) is a potentially life-threatening viral infection which is spread via mosquitoes. Infected travellers may experience some swelling around the brain and even slip into a coma or even death.

Also, do take steps to prevent mosquito bites, like covering exposed skin with long-sleeved shirts and using a bed net if sleeping outdoors or with open windows.
Duration of vaccine protection… about a year.
Recommended if you’re travelling to… any country especially during warm or humid climates as mosquitoes tend to thrive in those conditions.

An Asian traveller spraying repellent to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes

Besides getting vaccinated, take steps to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes such as spraying or applying repellent before heading outdoors.

7. Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is another viral infection that is carried by mosquitoes. Symptoms include fever, aches, muscle pain, vomiting and fatigue. Yellow Fever may also trigger severe liver disease and jaundice.
Duration of vaccine protection… a lifetime.
Recommended if you’re travelling to… Africa, South America and South Asia.

8. Rabies

This deadly virus is usually transmitted through getting bitten by infected mammals. The virus can affect nerve and brain functions, where it is almost always fatal.
Duration of vaccine protection… six months to two years.
Recommended if you’re… going to be in close contact with wild animals during your trip.

A wild dog barking and looking like it is about to attack

Avoid close contact with wild animals as there’s no way to tell if they’re infected with rabies. If so, their bites can be fatal!

9. Polio

The poliovirus invades the brain and spinal cord of an infected person resulting in paralysis. The virus can be contracted through contact with bodily fluids from the nose and mouth, or faeces of an infected person due to poor sanitation or hygiene levels.
Duration of vaccine protection… 18 years.
Recommended if you’re travelling to… Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Somalia.

10. Meningococcal Infection

Of the many strains of bacterial meningitis, two — Neisseria Meningitidis and Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib) — can be prevented with this vaccination.

The Meningococcal bacteria can enter your body through inhalation when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The bacteria may remain in the infected person’s nose and throat, without manifesting symptoms. However, when it enters the lungs or bloodstream, it can result in a potentially serious infection in one’s blood, joints, bones or heart, triggering pneumonia, meningitis, and even fatal blood poisoning.
Duration of vaccine protection… nine years.
Recommended if you’re travelling to… Africa. Otherwise, pilgrims making their annual visit to Saudi Arabia during the Hajj must also show proof of meningococcal vaccination as well.

11. Pneumococcal Disease

This is another strain of bacterial meningitis — caused by the streptococcus pneumoniae strain.

This third strain of the virus can lead to Pneumococcal Disease (PD), an airborne disease which can be contracted when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Not everyone exposed to this bacterium develops the disease — some remain as carriers. However, when an infection takes hold, PD bacteria can cause meningitis which can result in significant learning disabilities, speech delays, paralysis and even death.
Duration of vaccine protection… four to five years.
Recommended if you’re travelling to… any developing country.

Other top travel health tips

A small first-aid kit along with other travel essentials

Over-the-counter medication overseas may differ in quality and strength so always pack along a first-aid kit.

Besides vaccinations, you should always pack along a mini first-aid kit filled with medication that can help alleviate common ailments. Grab these at your nearest pharmacy:

·       Prescription items: Items like insulin, diabetes test kits, and other related supplies – because you cannot guarantee you will get the same products at your destination.

·       Over-the-counter medicines: Add Antihistamines, antacid, diarrhoea medication, cough suppressants or medication, fever and pain medication to your cart.

·       Miscellaneous items: Hand sanitiser, water purification tablets, insect repellent, sunscreen shouldn’t be overlooked as well.

Also, be sure to follow some simple rules when consuming food overseas. Try to avoid food that has been left out in warm or room temperatures, such as at buffets or street food stalls. Instead, you should stick to meals that are cooked thoroughly and served piping hot.

If you’re unsure of the cleanliness of a restaurant or food stall, avoid foods like raw fish or meats cooked in citrus juices or even vinegar. The same goes for platters of cut fruit and vegetables.

For beverages, do not consume any ice when asking for cold drinks, as you cannot guarantee that ice is made with filtered or potable water. And drinking pasteurised milk from a sealed bottle should be safe but watch out for those sitting in open containers or pitchers, especially at room temperature. Bacteria tend to thrive and multiply in warmer temperatures.

 

Information Sources and References: US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travelers’ Health Portal, World Health Organisation’s Health Topics Portal, and Singapore Health Promotion Board’s Health Guide for Travellers.